I have a picture in my head of little me, at the starting line, half-crouched, ready for the off , totally pumped up, in a Very Important Race. Call it The Perfect Christian 10,000 metres. The starter’s pistol would be raised aloft, he would intone 3-2-1- and BANG!! All the other competitors would streak away into the distance and I would hobble a few metres before crashing heavily to the ground. (I’ve never been much of a runner). Then I’d wend my dismal way back to the starting line and try again. And again And again.
Call me late to the party if you like, but I am beginning to experience a little twinkle of realisation in my mind that this isn’t what God is asking of me. Okay – St Paul told us to run the race which is set before us – but I don’t think he meant that you had to keep on going back to the start and doing the beginning bit over and over if you didn’t get it right first time. A bit like a spiritual Groundhog Day. And every time you start again, you think – Yes! This time I will be good. This time I will be better. This time I will read my Bible and pray every day and yah boo sucks to failure because it’s not going to happen. And then it does. Every time. And it always, but always will whilst the picture in my head of being a Christian is one of having to Achieve. Step Up. Get It Right.
I think St Paul meant that it’s just one race, one journey, and, just like on a cross country, even though you traverse high fells and all weathers and all manner of scary monsters, ghosties and long-leggerdy beasties, you just keep on going. (Preachers out there – feel free to use my exegesis of Paul’s letters. You’re welcome.)
I was in our little local coffee shop the other day having a cheeky few minutes to myself. (The proprietor knows me so well now that I’ve told her she’ll get a mention in the dedications to my first book). This café dispenses not only lattes and the like but homemade wares from local crafters. I spend many happy hours browsing the scented candles, bunting and coasters.
One small item caught my eye. It was a small wooden figure, about three inches high with three painted words on the front. The words said, ‘You are enough.’
And it struck me that this is exactly what I need to hear right now. I am enough. I am enough as a Christian, living my best gospel life (even if that feels woefully inadequate), trying to love (especially those who I find it difficult to love) and needing to imbibe and accept the gospel of grace that I am loved by God whatever. Whatever. Even if I don’t conform to the picture in my head of what a Christian should be doing. Or especially when I don’t.
Because it’s really not about that. It’s about knowing I am accepted just as I am. Charlotte Elliott wrote a cracking hymn with those words and she hit that nail right on the head.
As I go forward into 2024, I want to shed all the illusions I have of myself as some sort of right-on Christian. Because I sure am not. I’m in no doubt that there are many out there who are far more faithful in their Christian timekeeping than I am. But God didn’t call me to be anxious or despairing. She didn’t call me back to the starting line over and over, pointing with her finger saying sternly, ‘WRONG! Try again!’ She called me to be her child and to know I am loved. Just as I am.
How did I become so critical of myself? It’s easy to blame other people, the church, the messages the little me was fed. Things are different now. I can tell those false and damaging notions to hightail it and leave me alone. Jump over that cliff in a herd of swine. Because those messages are not of God. God loves me just as I am. (She doesn’t even have a starting line by the way, because we are loved eternally and eternity doesn’t have any notion of yesterday or today or tomorrow.)
God is a God of grace. She is always there, with arms wide open, waiting for me to run into them and be sheltered just like a mother hen shelters her chicks (Psalm 91 since you’re asking).
And telling me that I am okay. Just as I am.
I am enough.